Collaborative Close Readings
I think that a certain mode of interaction with divinity is at work in this poem. Louise Glück’s “Vespers” takes me to some parables, in particular those where a landlord leaves the land to his tenant and returns after a time to call them to account. The Parable of the Talents is perhaps the most famous, but there are others. The persona here sounds like a tenant, but one who recognizes the landlord for the divinity he symbolically is (one who could “withhold// heavy rains”).
I am interested in the diction, especially in the words found at the outset, such as “anticipating,” “return on investment,” and “principally,” all of which where ripped right out of a business management textbook. Because of these words, by the time we arrive at the addressee’s “heart” and the persona’s “doubt” regarding his understanding of it, “that term” takes on another meaning (or understanding) as a period in the venture, or a phase (“twelve weeks of summer”). That’s in business, but it glides (too smoothly, perhaps) into parable where the “term” is the span of time allotted to by the lord to the tenant to work the land and, in the process, to prove the worth of the earth as well as of the self.
“That term” has another layer for me: metapoetry. Here we return to the place (or figure, as in this poem) where the word “term,” like other words, could be taken in all its multivalence to bear fruit, become “heart”. In fact, we could make a case of the addressee here as poetry itself, as that which withdraws inspiration (in your absence) so that the poet is forcefully abandoned to work the earth.
While doing so, she believes in a return, a second coming which is desired, of course, but also dreaded, because she will be called into account (the Vespers, the evening prayers, the closing of the day), and she fears coming to poetry empty-handed, especially as that would mean that all she has done was waste “that term”: earth, time, and precious life, the span of her heart (perhaps also not only her life, but the lives of those she “grows” such as tomatoes, relationships, children).
Vines here is a particularly cruel word. In parable, that means grapes, and wine, and crushing. But the vines also are entangling, like flaws in verse, or wrong life-choices. And there must be a sense of power here, for the persona, when she takes responsibility for that which provides life as well as chokes it out of us.